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DA Watch: Texas Death Row Inmate Toney Freed Last Night and May Not Face Re-Trial

Michael Toney walked out of jail a free man last week after being on Texas’ Death Row for a decade.  Maybe you remember the case of Michael Toney….

Michael Toney Was Convicted for the Bombing Murder of 3 People – Nine Years Later, the DA Admits to Hiding Exculpatory Evidence

Last October, we posted about how the Tarrant County District Attorney held back favorable evidence in the Toney case for twenty-three (23) years.  From that post:

On Thanksgiving Day 1985, a bomb was left in a briefcase on the doorstep of a trailer in a mobile home park.

It exploded and killed three people (a 44-year-old man, his teenaged daughter, a teenaged relative) and severely wounded another (the victim’s 13 year-old son).

On October 2, 2008, another bomb of sorts hit this case: the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office officially admitted that evidence favorable to the defense was intentionally held back — and it was important stuff.

This evidence might have cleared Michael Toney — who sat through a jury trial, was found guilty, was then sentenced to death, and who has sat on Death Row since 1999. That’s 9 years on Death Row for a man who has consistently maintained his innocence of the crime.

In January, we posted about how the Texas Attorney General was taking over the Toney matter, since the Fort Worth prosecutors had recused themselves from the Toney case.   From that post:

Fourteen (14) separate documents that threw mud all over the evidence provided at trial against Toney by his ex-wife and his ex-best-friend — and theirs was the only witness evidence against him.

What does this mean?

By recusing itself, Tarrant County is transfering prosecution of this matter to the Attorney General for the State of Texas. It’s now the AG’s office that will have to decide whether or not to spend taxpayer money on a new trial for Michael Toney.

Right now, it’s unclear whether or not they’ve got enough evidence to pursue a case against him. (There was no physical evidence, and it’s not disputed that Toney had absolutely no connection with the three victims of the 1985 Thanksgiving Day bomb.)

What Happened This Week?  The Attorney General Dropped the Case and Moved to Dismiss – Giving Michael Toney His Freedom

Having taken over the case from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Attorney General took over an ancient case from square one.  It was admittedly a burdensome task where the DA would be reviewing all the evidence — witnesses, testimony, documents, expert testing and opinion, etc. —  and then proceeding on behalf of the State of Texas in its efforts to punish Michael Toney.  (In December 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction based upon the Tarrant County DA’s withholding of evidence.)

Apparently, the AG didn’t have the time to complete the job, given the November 2009 trial date, because a Motion to Dismiss was filed where the prosecution asked that the cae be dropped — and the reason given the trial court was insufficient time to review all the evidence and/or conduct adequate forensic testing before that trial deadline.   (Of course, the AG reserved its right to refile the case.)

The Attorney General filed its motion the day before it was to tell District Judge Everett Young whether or not the State would once again be seeking the death penalty.  A hearing was set for Thursday before Judge Young; the motion to dismiss automatically guts that setting.

So, last Wednesday, Michael Toney walked out of jail, a free man. 

Through his lawyers, he issued the following presser the next day:  “I have said all along that I was innocent of these charges and I know that when the Attorney General reviews the evidence, it will show that I am indeed innocent,” he said.

The Attorney General’s office is waffling on whether or not they’re going to continue pursuing Toney for this crime.  They had lingo in the dismissal motion about needing more time to get to know the case, investigate it thoroughly, and interestingly, to take advantage of the latest scientific evidence in dealing with fires, bombs, and such.

Do We See The Shadow of Cameron Todd Willingham?

Which is a good lesson to learn, given the Cameron Todd Willingham case.  You remember Cameron Todd Willingham — he was the man executed in 2004 by the State of Texas, only later to be confirmed innocent by arson experts.  Seems not only did Willingham not commit murder-by-arson (of his own kids), no one else did either.  New scientific review of the evidence revealed that the fire wasn’t arson at all.

Which isn’t to say that Willingham’s case can be analogized to Toney’s circumstances so far as to wonder if there was a bomb that went off that day long ago.  Safe to say there probably was a bomb.  However, maybe Willingham’s destiny may be to insure that there is clear and strongly supported forensic evidence before the State decides to seek to take the life of one of its citizens in the future.


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